News //
25th January 2021

Report The House Of Lord Virtual Reception 25 January 2021

Association des Juristes Franco-Britanniques – Franco- British Lawyers’ Society

Annual Reception ‘House of Lords’(virtual, zoom) held on Monday 25 January 2021 6pm-7pm GMT 19h-20h CET

The tradition of the Society is to hold its Annual Reception for members and patrons , in The River Room at the House of Lords, hosted by The Rt Hon The Lord Hope of Craighead and the President of the Society, Ian Forrester QC, and thanks to the Lord Speaker , in The River Room at the House of Lords.  

Ian Forrester QC, The President (Luxembourg) – Welcome

The President began by saying that last year we were in The River Room, Palace of Westminster,  welcomed by the Lord Speaker and host Lord Hope, with the river traffic below on the Thames. With those interested in the law and good relations between France and the UK. This year it was virtual. The Society had kept the date and the traditions of the Annual Reception as far as possible. It  was again hosted by Lord HOPE and the President of the Society.  The President warmly welcomed everyone, patrons and members and thanking the senior judges and professors  attending from France and the United Kingdom. He said he had counted some 26 judges and some 32 teachers of law amongst those present and distinguished heads of professional lawyers’ bodies, past and present. He introduced the evening’s rich programme. [ A copy of the evening’s programme is on the website.] Then he asked Lord Hope to introduce HE Ambassadrice Catherine Colonna Ambassadeur de France in the UK.

Lord Hope (Edinburgh) – introduced HE Ambassadrice Catherine Colonna

He warmly welcomed her in French. He then continues in English referring to her career initially in law and then in the French Foreign Office. Her work with the late regretted President Chirac and her diplomatic career and important high level ambassadorial posts and now promoted as Ambassadeur de France, in the United Kingdom. He thanked her for the investiture of Normandy veterans with the Légion d’Honneur in a difficult year and especially her celebrating the National Day by personally distributing ‘viennoiseries’ to the front line staff of two major central London hospitals fighting Coronovirus.

HE Ambassadrice Catherine Colonna, Ambassadeur de France in the United Kingdom, (Chancellery, London) – speech:

The Ambassadrice opened her speech thanking Lord Hope and regretting we were not together in person, notwithstanding the distinguished company present. She gave a tribute to the late Lord Kerr, patron of the Society from 2007, and his profound belief in the rule of law and justice as guarantees of democracy and peace. She said 2020 was an interesting then unusual and difficult year, not least the pandemic and Brexit. But we both face the same challenges. Sadly again in 2020 both countries experienced terrorism. However, we have had to reinvent ways to hold the reception to celebrate the co-operation between France and the United Kingdom in matters of law and justice, which the Society supported and symbolised for more than 30 years. She spoke of the support by the Society to the young in the successful Careers Forums and the award soon to be made. She closed expressing her commitment and that of all sections of her Embassy in supporting the Society’s events (through the ‘Chancellerie, la mission de défense, le magistrat de liaison et le secretariat de la mer’). [The full text of the speech of SE l’Ambassadrice Catherine COLONNA  is on the website.]

The President thanked HE the Ambassadrice for her fulsome support so appreciated by the Society.  He then introduced Lord HOPE and his distinguished judicial career in Scotland, Lord President, as the founding Deputy President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and Convenor of the Crossbenches in the House of Lords. He is a Patron since the Society was launched.

The Rt Hon The Lord Hope of Craighead – talk:

Lord Hope opened his talk referring to the traditional venue in the House of Lords and asked us to put ourselves there in our imagination. The subject was ‘ The rôle of the House of Lords in a period of constitutional crisis’. He began with the revolutionary changes of the constitution in 1688, and, stating ‘the executive – the government – is not the supreme constitutional authority. That sovereignty belongs to Parliament.’ The elected House of Commons and the House of Lords. He went on to refer to the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 which limit the power of the House of Lords as one of delay of proposed legislation of the House of Commons, backwards and forwards: ’ping pong’. He then went on to give the recent example of the government seeking the power to make regulations in relation to trade with Northern Ireland contrary to what had been agreed in the treaty with the EU, Withdrawl Agreement of 2020. So a breach of international law and against The Rule of Law. The House of Lords objected, particularly the Crossbenches and exercised its rights. The effectiveness of that was explained.

 [The full text of the speeches of Lord HOPE and HE Ambassadrice Catherine Colonna, can be find below]

Dr Vivienne Forrest, Academic Director (Paris) – introduces the Society’s two academic awards

Dr Forrest explained the academic awards of the Society, their aims and how candidates are selected. She described the two awards:  The FBLS UK Academic Award and for France The Prix Universitaire: Robertson-Horsington. Both prizes are awarded to universities providing degree courses in French and United Kingdom laws. They consist of money and a certificate. The University distributes each year for five years an award to an individual student for their achievement and contribution to legal relations between the two countries. To-day the FBLS UK Academic Award is being presented by Lord Hope.

The Rt Hon The Lord Hope of Craighead – Presentation of the FBLS UK Academic Award

Lord Hope began by saying that the detailed nature of the recommendation by the Academic Director meant he had a detailed knowledge of the course LLB and Licence en droit of Cardiff University. It was a very impressive course. The representatives were to be congratulated. He showed to all the splendidly prepared Certificate of the FBLS UK Academic Award before presenting it to the representatives of Cardiff University School of Law and Politics. Lord Hope regretted there was no cheque he could hand over, but he was assured that an e-transfer would be made. The School was represented by Professor Stewart FIELD Head of Law of the School of Law and Politics, and  Dr Muriel RENAUDIN, Head of the LLB Law and French Licence en Droit programme.

 Professor Stewart Field,  Dr Muriel Renaudin and student Marie Philippe (Cardiff)–  reply by Cardiff University

Professor Field thanked Lord Hope and the Society. He described how the course had developed, and how its University exchange partners in France created a unique understanding for students of the practice and methodologies of both systems of law. He added that the arrival of Dr Muriel Renaudin as head of the programme had extended the depth of understanding of students. Dr Muriel Renaudin expressed her appreciation and how the award would embellish the standing of the LLB Law/ Licence en Droit programme and benefit the students. On behalf of the six students present at the ceremony student Marie Philippe gave her appreciation to the Society.

Simon Horsington, Vice-Président d’Honneur, founder (London) – thanks and introduction to the Vice-Presidents

Thanks and appreciation were given in respect of the Presentation to Lord Hope, Dr Vivienne Forrest and Cardiff University, Professor Field, Dr Renaudin and Marie Philippe. Also to Charles de Couëdic de Kerérant for designing and organising the Certificate for Lord Hope to present.

Vice-Presidents, Presidents of the sections of the Society – reports 2021 and plans for 2020 

Leo CARPENTIERILondon – England and Wales ; Frederic GOLDBERGParis – France; David GUILDEdinburgh – Scotland; Fionnuala CONNOLLYBelfast Northern Ireland.

These reports expressed the thanks of the Presidents for the support given to them by their committees and the past and present heads of the professional bodies for lawyers. In London gratitude was expressed by Leo to webinar speakers, the juge de liaison and French Embassy and participating in the Careers Forum, and the Supreme Court in London, The President Robert Reed and support  of Lord Lloyd-Jones opening the webinar on virtual litigation. For the Maritime Colloquium Commodore Rob Wood, RN, Head Navy Legal Services. In Edinburgh David gave his appreciation to all speakers and in particular to Sir Anton Muscatelli, Vice Chancellor Glasgow University, with whom the Society’s first webinar was held jointly, the Lord Advocate and Sir David Edward who had concluded that webinar and each of those in the series on Brexit. He expressed too thanks for the past support of Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston, and Judge Tim Eicke European Court of Human Rights In Belfast, Fionnuala expressed sadness at the passing of their Patron since 2007, Lord Kerr, as had HE l’Ambassadrice. She thanked Lord Stephens for accepting to act as Patron and the continued support of Lord Chief Justice NI, and Lord Justice McCloskey and Professor Brice Dickson. In Paris, Frederic gave his appreciation to the Premier President of the cour de cassation Chantal Arens and members of her court, the cour d’appel de Paris, the support of the British Embassy and Ambassador Lord Llewellyn and the Secretaire General de la Mer. He extended his thanks to all those who had participated in the Forum des Carrieres.

Ian Forrester QC, President – Review of the Society 2020 and forward into 2021

The President thanked HE the Ambassadrice for her attendance and the support she had expressed to the Society. He thanked Lord Hope for his informative and stimulating talk on the rôle of the House of Lords and explaining its recent action in upholding The Rule of Law. He gave specific thanks for the support of the senior judiciary in France, the United Kingdom and its jurisdictions of England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The President gave a review of the Society and its varied Programme in 2020. In spite of the pandemic, a series of five webinars was held on the themes of the potential legal consequences of Brexit. These were on many issues, from the impact on the movement and status of those living and working both sides of the Channel to the issues on the island of Ireland. The expected Common Trade Agreement was negotiated so late, that legal review webinars of it will take place in 2021.  The Programme for the webinars and events in 2021 will be on the Society’s website. The aim is to hold comparative law webinars on current topics of interest and its traditional two careers forums Paris and London which proved the best attended of the Society’s webinars helping young law students and lawyers with their futures. He thanked all who had made the webinars successful, the Board, Section Committees and the organising team of the event. He ended with thanks to all the members and distinguished guest for attending and supporting the Society.

Eleanor Sharpston QC, Advocate General (Luxembourg) – address to the students.

Eleanor Sharpston gave an inspirational talk addressed particularly to students and young lawyers. She encouraged them to challenge received ideas, policies, and practices. It was their task to question them and not accept them automatically.

Simon Horsington, Vice-Président d’Honneur, fondateur – conclusion « et au revoir »

He thanked the President on behalf of the Society and Patrons for have taken the Society through a difficult year. The President had established with David Guild the Society’s first webinar. The Society held eight webinars in all in 2020.  A very important event occurred last year. The President was honoured in a very particular way in 2020 by the Award of the LifeTime Lawyer Achievement by The Times in Scotland. The award for an exceptional legal career to Dr Ian Forrester QC, academic, lawyer in Scotland, Bencher Middle Temple, law firm in Brussels, judge of The Tribunal of the European Union in Luxembourg and, of course, most importantly to us all, his commitment as President of this Society since 2018.

He thanked the organising team for this Annual Reception: in the Society, Dr Vivienne Forrest,  Charles du Couëdic de Kerérant, Sophia Sahli, Consultant Administrator, and, in the French Embassy, juge de liaison Estelle Cros, legal adviser Lucie Bruneau and Pierre Jean Albrand Chef du Cabinet de l’Ambassadrice.

As the evening was Burn’s Night, named after the famous 18th century Scottish poet, it seemed appropriate not only to wish all good health,  slàinte, but to say in the French words those of Robert Burns  ‘Auld lang syne’:

« Ce n’est qu’un au revoir, mes amis, ce n’est qu’un au revoir ! » – diolch yn fawr, thank you, et merci à toutes et à tous et à la Réception Annuelle au lundi 31 janvier 2022, espérons The River Room, House of Lords. So PLEASE PUT MONDAY 31 JANUIARY 2022 in your diaries!

Intervention/Speech of HE Ambassadrice Catherine COLONNA, Ambassadeur de France

 given in French, English translation

Lord Hope of Craighead,

Monsieur le Président,

Mesdames et Messieurs les juristes,

Lords, Ladies et Gentlemen,

Chers Amis, Dear Friends,

I am very pleased to be with you this evening, whilst regretting that we are not able to be together in person.

The rather unusual present circumstances require us to reinvent how we meet and communicate with each other, including this Monday, where we celebrate co-operation between France and the United Kingdom in the area of law and justice, and an area of which your Society is both a support and symbol for more than 30 years.

I should specifically like to pay tribute to Lord Kerr, last ‘Lord of Appeal in Ordinary’, and as such one of the leading justices of the Supreme Court. Lord Kerr worked unstintingly for the legal community and supported the Franco-British Lawyers Society since 2007 when he was Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. The legacy he leaves with us is the firm belief that the rule of law and justice are the guarantors of peace in society and the fundamental basis of democracy.

The year 2020 was a strange year for many reasons, marked by a world health crisis and the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

Your Society is rich and varied in its representatives of the legal professions: judges, avocats, notaires, barristers, solicitors. These give witness to the vitality and innovation of your Society which has given rise throughout this year of 2020 on reflections on access to law and justice in the context of the pandemic and wider global issues of digitalisation and justice.

In a spirit of openness, you have organised several seminars on the legal and judicial challenges posed by Brexit. The activities of your Society witness equally of the willingness to act in favour of working for justice and building co-operation based in future in a context other than that of the European Union.

The links that unite our two countries, beyond political and traditional beliefs, are a deep attachment to the common values of freedom, tolerance and openness to the world and we are confronted by the same challenges: to protect individual freedoms, but also the safety of each of us, from the hate filled speeches and attacks of terrorists which unfortunately both of our countries were victims of in 2020.

Your Society, with its comparative approach and links it has created in respect of day-to-day matters, reminds us that our distinct legal traditions, must not be a source of misunderstanding but on the contrary must be read as the richness of our institutions.

Encompassing all the legal professions, your Society also demonstrates your willingness to include young people and those who instruct them as part of the Society. The forums on legal careers organised by you, both in France and the United Kingdom, were a success, and, I understand that the Society’s FBLS UK Academic Award will be presented during this annual reception.

I should like to conclude these brief comments by reminding the Society of my commitment and that of the sections of the French Embassy in the United Kingdom to your activities (the Chancellery, the defence mission, the liaison judge and the general secretariat of the sea).

I was with you last year for the annual reception with the welcome of the Lord Speaker. I was able speak with you both, dear Lord Hope, dear Ian Forrester (President of the FBLS). Nothing can replace those encounters in person, but I give you my warmest congratulations for all that you do and continue to do, and, you have renewed the support of the French Embassy for the new challenges that we won’t be short of in 2021!

Chers amis,

Je suis très heureuse d’être parmi vous ce soir tout en regrettant que nous ne puissions être ensemble en personne. Les circonstances particulières actuelles nous invitent à réinventer nos modes de relation et communication, y compris ce lundi, pour célébrer la coopération entre la France et le Royaume-Uni en matière de droit et de justice, dont votre association est à la fois le soutien et le symbole depuis plus de trente ans.

Je voudrais particulièrement rentre hommage à Lord Kerr, dernier « Lord of Appeal in Ordinary » et à ce titre au nombre des premiers juges de la Cour suprême. Lord Kerr a œuvré sans relâche pour la communauté juridique et a soutenu l’association des juristes franco-britanniques dès 2007 lorsqu’il était Lord Chief Justice d’Irlande du Nord. Il nous laisse en héritage la croyance farouche que l’état de droit et la justice sont les garants d’une paix sociale et le socle de la démocratie.

L’année 2020 a été une année singulière à bien des égards, marquée par une crise sanitaire mondiale et le retrait du Royaume-Uni de l’Union européenne. Riche des représentants juridiques de toutes les professions du droit : magistrats, avocats, notaires, juristes, barristerssolicitors, votre association, témoignant de sa vitalité et son inventivité, a contribué tout au long de cette année 2020 aux réflexions d’un accès au droit et à la justice dans un contexte de pandémie et des enjeux plus globaux de la digitalisation de la justice.

Vous avez, dans un esprit d’ouverture, organisé plusieurs séminaires sur les enjeux juridiques et judiciaires du Brexit. L’activité de votre association témoigne également de la volonté d’agir en faveur de l’œuvre de justice et de construire une coopération qui s’inscrira désormais dans un champ autre que celui de l’Union européenne.

Les liens qui unissent nos deux pays, au-delà des liens politiques et conventionnels, sont un attachement profond aux valeurs communes de liberté, de tolérance et d’ouverture au monde et nous sommes confrontés aux mêmes défis : protéger les libertés individuelles mais aussi la sécurité de chacun, des discours haineux ou des attaques terroristes dont malheureusement nos deux pays ont encore été victimes en 2020.

Votre association, par son approche comparative et les liens qu’elle crée au quotidien, nous rappelle que nos traditions juridiques distinctes, ne doivent pas être source d’incompréhension mais au contraire de richesse dans la lecture de nos institutions.

Transversale par les professions qui la composent, votre association témoigne aussi d’une volonté d’associer les jeunes générations et ceux qui les forment, à son action. Les forums des carriers juridiques organisés en France et au Royaume-Uni ont été un succès et je crois savoir que le prix du UK Academic Award sera remis au cours de cette réception annuelle.

Je voudrais conclure ce bref propos en rappelant mon attachement et celui des services de l’Ambassade de France au Royaume-Uni à vos actions (la Chancellerie, la mission de défense, le magistrat de liaison et le secrétariat général de la mer).

J’étais parmi vous l’an dernier lors de la réception annuelle qu’avait accueillie le Lord Speaker. J’avais pu, cher Lord Hope, cher Ian Forrester (le président de l’AJFB), échanger avec vous. Rien ne remplace les rencontres en personne mais je vous félicite vivement pour l’action que vous menez et continuez à mener et vous renouvelle le soutien de l’Ambassade de France pour les nouveaux défis qui ne manqueront pas en 2021 !  

Talk by Rt Hon The Lord HOPE of Craighead: “The rôle of the House of Lords in a period of constitutional crisis.’

  1. Today, the last Monday in January, is the day when each year, by a long and happy tradition, we meet in the River Room of the House of Lords in London. It is a sad but inevitable fact that we are unable to meet there together this year. But we have all become very familiar during the past year with those wonderful systems such as Zoom that allow people to meet together on line from the safety of their own homes.  So we must all be grateful to the organisers of this meeting for maintaining the tradition by which we meet together on this day, even though we have to do this remotely and not together in the River Room itself.  So, as we are meeting, in our imagination, in the House of Lords, I have been asked to say a few words about the House of Lords itself.
  2. The suggestion was that I should describe the role of the House of Lords in a period of constitutional crisis. You might have expected me to give you a clear and simple answer to this question. But I fear that the answer to it is, in fact, a rather elusive one. The problem, you see, is that, as everyone here knows, the United Kingdom does not have a written constitution.  We have no lack of constitutional conventions and principles.  But nothing has been codified in that way.  That is a product of our history.
  3. Our system of government is the product of what is called the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This event happened 100 years before the French Revolution of 1789. In our case it was quick and relatively bloodless, and we were not declaring our independence from anybody, as the United States of America did in 1776.  Instead of overthrowing the monarchy and replacing it with a republic, we deposed our monarch and replaced him with another monarchy.   But it was to be a monarchy of a different kind.  Nothing was actually written down.  But it led, by consent, to the happy situation we now enjoy where the monarch reigns but does not rule.  We became a democracy. The supreme authority now rests with Parliament.
  4. If this had happened a century later, and had our revolution been more fundamental in character, there might indeed have been pressure for something to be written down. As it is, the absence of a basic set of written principles makes it rather difficult to provide you with an answer that everyone would agree with.  Because no principles have been written down, the issue is not one for the judges.  It is one of politics, not one law.  Politics is the art of the possible, the art of the next best, as Otto von Bismark once said.
  5. With us, the executive – the government – is not the supreme authority. That sovereignty belongs to Parliament. The House of Commons, as the elected Chamber, is the most significant, the most important, House.  But that does not mean that the House of Lords is without some modest power.
  6. Now to understand its role one has to understand who its members are and why they are there. There are still some hereditary peers, but most its members today are life peers. The word ‘life’ means what it says.  They retain their membership until they die or retire.  Most of them were appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister to sit as members of one or other of the three political groups, all of which are represented there.  But there is one other very important group, to which I belong, called the Crossbenchers.  Its members have no political affiliation and, as each of them is independent from the others, they are not subject to direction or control by anybody. They were appointed to sit there because of their experience of other areas of public life.  All of members of the House, however, share this characteristic – they are not elected.   The House of Lords can advise and question the government.  But it has no democratic mandate.  That is the key point.
  7. Calling the government to account for what it does, or does not, do is what the House of Lords does every day. Each sitting day starts with questions to ministers, which they must answer. Every item of business that follows has a government minister in attendance.  Each of them offers a further opportunity to challenge or question what the government is doing.  This can take the form of a government statement on an important issue, such as the handling of the coronavirus crisis, or a full debate on, for example, the adverse effects of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU.  On these occasions the House, which is very well informed on medical and trade matters, can contribute its expertise to the debate.  It can try to influence government policy by the strength of its argument.
  8. But the only situation where the House of Lords has any kind of control is when it comes to legislation. The general rule is that to become law all legislation has to be approved by both Houses. The government does not have a majority in the House of Lords, so it is frequently outvoted there on issues of controversy.   By convention the last word in any dispute between the two Houses lies with the elected Chamber, the House of Commons which can overturn anything done by the Lords which it does not like.  Furthermore, under the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 the power of the Lords in relation to legislation passed by the House of Commons is limited to one of delay.  It no longer has a right of veto.  It can hold up a Bill for a year, after which the Commons can reintroduce it and pass it without the consent of the Lords.
  9. Where time matters, however, the prospect of delay can be a quite a powerful weapon. And the government can be influenced by the strength of feeling in the House of Lords as shown by the size of the vote against it. If the Crossbenchers join in large numbers to join with the opposition parties to vote against it, the government can lose by as many as 100 votes. When that happens, as the issue goes backwards and forwards between the Houses under a process that we call ping pong, it needs to take notice of what has happened.
  10. The best and most recent example of this happening in a constitutional issue was in connection with Brexit. The government wanted to be given power to make regulations in relation to trade with Northern Ireland which were contrary to what had been agreed with EU in the Withdrawal Agreement of January 2020. It also wanted the legislation to state that this must be given effect notwithstanding that it was in breach of international law.  This is something that the rule of law does not permit.  Many of us in the House of Lords, especially on the Crossbenches, objected very strongly to this provision even though it had been passed by the House of Commons.  We took the view that it was constitutionally improper for a government to seek power to breach international law.  It was against the Rule of Law..  When it came to the vote the majority against the government was more than 100.  It was made plain that the settled determination of the House was to refuse to pass the Bill unless these provisions were removed.
  11. We knew that the government needed to get the Bill through by the end of the transitional period. So in this case the risk of delay factor was very real. In the event the government decided to withdraw this provision from the Bill.  It may have been that the dinner which the Prime Minister enjoyed with Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels at this crucial moment that made the difference.  But it is certain that the government needed the Bill, so it really had no choice in view of the position that the House of Lords adopted.  It is well known that the Government does not like having its plans blocked in the House of Lords, and sometimes threats are made about its future.  But what happened on this occasion shows that, despite its undemocratic nature, it is a performing an important role.
  12. I said that answer to the question I was asked to talk about was elusive. We do not have many constitutional crises of that kind, and the way they are dealt with will vary from case to case as there are no fixed rules.  But I hope that I have given you just a little insight to this rather strange aspect of politics in the United Kingdom.

Traduction en Français

Discours de The Right Honourable The Lord HOPE of Craighead: « Le rôle  de la Chambre des Lords dans une période de crise constitutionnelle. »

  1. Aujourd’hui, le dernier lundi de janvier, est le jour où chaque année, par une longue et heureuse tradition, nous nous réunissons dans la salle, the River Room de la Chambre des Lords à Londres. C’est un fait triste mais inévitable que nous ne sommes pas en mesure de nous y réunir cette année. Mais nous sommes tous devenus très familiers au cours de la dernière année avec ces merveilleux systèmes tels que Zoom qui permettent aux gens de se réunir en ligne de la sécurité de leurs propres maisons. Nous devons donc tous être reconnaissants aux organisateurs de cette réunion d’avoir maintenu la tradition par laquelle nous nous réunissons ce jour-là, même si nous devons le faire à distance et non ensemble dans la salle qui donne sur la rivière Tamise, River Room, elle-même. Donc, alors que nous nous réunissons, dans notre imagination, à la Chambre des Lords, on m’a demandé de dire quelques mots au sujet de la Chambre des Lords elle-même.
  2. La suggestion était que je décrive : « le rôle de la Chambre des Lords dans une période de crise constitutionnelle ». Vous vous attendiez peut-être à ce que je vous donne une réponse claire et simple à cette question. Mais je crains que la réponse soit, en fait, plutôt insaisissable. Le problème, voyez-vous, c’est que, comme tout le monde ici le sait, le Royaume-Uni n’a pas de constitution écrite. Les conventions et les principes constitutionnels ne nous manquent pas. Mais rien n’a été codifié de cette façon. C’est un produit de notre histoire.
  3. Notre système de gouvernement est le produit de ce qu’on appelle la Glorieuse Révolution de 1688. Cet événement s’est produit 100 ans avant la Révolution Française de 1789. Dans notre cas, c’était rapide et relativement sans effusion de sang, et nous ne déclarions notre indépendance de personne, comme les États-Unis d’Amérique l’ont fait en 1776. Au lieu de renverser la monarchie, la Glorieuse Révolution, et la remplacer par une république, nous avons déposé notre monarque et nous l’avons remplacé par une autre monarchie. Mais ce devait être une monarchie d’un autre genre. Rien n’a été écrit. Mais il a conduit, par consentement, à la situation heureuse que nous jouissons maintenant où le monarque règne, mais ne gouverne pas. Nous sommes devenus une démocratie. L’autorité suprême incombe maintenant au Parlement.
  4. Si cela s’était produit un siècle plus tard, et si notre révolution avait été de caractère plus fondamental, il y aurait peut-être eu des pressions pour que quelque chose soit écrit. En l’état, l’absence d’un ensemble de principes écrits de base rend assez difficile de vous fournir une réponse avec laquelle tout le monde serait d’accord. Comme aucun des principes n’a pas été écrit, la question n’est pas celle qui est résolue par les juges. C’est une politique, pas une loi. La politique est l’art du possible, l’art du meilleur suivant, comme Otto von Bismark l’a dit un jour.
  5. Avec nous, l’exécutif – le gouvernement – n’est pas l’autorité suprême. Cette souveraineté appartient au Parlement. La Chambre des Communes, en tant que Chambre élue, est la Chambre la plus significative, la plus importante. Mais cela ne signifie pas que la Chambre des Lords est sans un pouvoir modeste.
  6. Maintenant, pour comprendre son rôle, il faut comprendre qui sont ses membres et pourquoi ils sont là. Il y a encore des pairs héréditaires, mais la plupart de ses membres d’aujourd’hui sont des pairs de la vie. Le mot « vie » signifie ce qu’il dit. Ils conservent leur adhésion jusqu’à leur décès ou à leur retraite. La plupart d’entre eux ont été nommés sur recommandation du premier ministre pour siéger comme membres de l’un ou l’autre des trois groupes politiques, qui y sont tous représentés. Mais il y a un autre groupe très important, auquel j’appartiens, le groupe appelé les Crossbenchers. Ses membres n’ont aucune affiliation politique et, comme chacun d’eux est indépendant des autres, ils ne sont soumis à aucune direction ou contrôle de la part de qui que ce soit. Ils ont été nommés pour y siéger en raison de leur expérience d’autres domaines de la vie publique. Toutefois, tous les députés partagent cette caractéristique – ils ne sont pas élus. La Chambre des Lords peut conseiller et interroger le gouvernement. Mais il n’a pas de mandat démocratique. C’est le point clé.
  1. Demander au gouvernement de rendre compte de ce qu’il fait ou ne fait pas, c’est ce que la Chambre des lords fait tous les jours. Chaque journée de séance commence par des questions aux ministres, auxquelles ils doivent répondre. Chaque point d’affaires qui suit à un ministre du gouvernement présent. Chacun d’eux offre une autre occasion de contester ou de remettre en question ce que fait le gouvernement. Cela peut prendre la forme d’une déclaration gouvernementale sur une question importante, comme la gestion de la crise du coronavirus, ou d’un débat complet sur, par exemple, les effets négatifs de l’Accord de commerce et de coopération avec l’UE. À ces occasions, la Chambre, qui est très bien informée sur les questions médicales et commerciales, peut apporter son expertise au débat. Il peut essayer d’influencer la politique gouvernementale par la force de son argument.
  2. Mais la seule situation où la Chambre des lords a un quelconque contrôle, c’est lorsqu’il s’agit de législation. La règle générale veut que, pour devenir loi, toutes les lois doivent être approuvées par les deux Chambres. Le gouvernement n’a pas la majorité à la Chambre des Lords, de sorte qu’il y est souvent mis en minorité sur des questions controversées. Par convention, le dernier mot dans tout différend entre les deux Chambres revient à la Chambre élue, la Chambre des Communes qui peut renverser tout ce qui est fait par les lords qu’elle n’aime pas. De plus, en vertu des Lois du Parlement de 1911 et de 1949, le pouvoir des lords à l’égard des lois adoptées par la Chambre des Communes se limite à un délai. Il n’a plus de droit de veto. Il peut présenter un projet de loi pendant un an, après quoi la Chambre des communes peut le présenter de nouveau et l’adopter sans le consentement des Lords.
  3. Lorsque le temps compte, cependant, la perspective d’un retard peut être une arme assez puissante. Et le gouvernement peut être influencé par la force du sentiment à la Chambre des lords comme le montre l’ampleur du vote contre elle. Si les Crossbenchers se joignent en grand nombre aux partis d’opposition pour voter contre, le gouvernement peut perdre jusqu’à 100 voix. Lorsque cela se produit, à mesure que la question va de l’avant entre les Chambres dans le cadre d’un processus que nous appelons ping-pong, elle doit prendre note de ce qui s’est passé.
  4. Le meilleur et le plus récent exemple de ce qui s’est passé dans une question constitutionnelle était le Brexit. Le gouvernement souhaitait avoir le pouvoir d’en faire des réglementations relatives au commerce avec l’Irlande du Nord qui étaient contraires à ce qui avait été convenu avec l’UE dans l’accord de retrait de janvier 2020. Elle souhaitait également que la législation énonce que cela devait être mis en œuvre malgré le fait qu’elle violait le droit international. C’est quelque chose que la primauté du droit ne permet pas. Bon nombre d’entre nous à la Chambre des Lords, particulièrement en ce qui concerne les députés, se sont vivement opposés à cette disposition, même si elle avait été adoptée par la Chambre des Communes. Nous étions d’avis qu’il était constitutionnellement inapproprié pour un gouvernement de chercher le pouvoir de violer le droit international. C’était contre l’État de droit, « the Rule of Law ». En ce qui a été le vote, la majorité contre le gouvernement était de plus de 100. Il a été clairement indiqué que la décision réglée de la Chambre était de refuser d’adopter le projet de loi à moins que ces dispositions ne soient supprimées.
  5. Nous savions que le gouvernement devait faire passer le projet de loi d’ici la fin de la période de transition. Donc, dans ce cas, le facteur de risque était du retard, facteur qui était très réel. Dans le cas où le gouvernement déciderait de retirer cette disposition du projet de loi. C’est peut-être le dîner que le Premier ministre a apprécié avec Ursula von der Leyen à Bruxelles en ce moment crucial qui a fait la différence. Mais il est certain que le gouvernement avait besoin du projet de loi, de sorte qu’il n’avait vraiment pas le choix compte tenu de la position adoptée par la Chambre des Lords. Il est bien connu que le gouvernement n’aime pas que ses plans soient bloqués à la Chambre des Lords, et parfois des menaces sont proférées au sujet de son avenir. Mais ce qui s’est passé à cette occasion montre que, malgré sa nature antidémocratique, il s’agit d’un rôle important.
  6. J’ai dit que la réponse à la question dont on m’avait demandé de parler était insaisissable. Nous n’avons pas beaucoup de crises constitutionnelles de ce genre, et la façon dont elles sont traitées variera d’un cas à l’autre, car il n’y a pas de règles fixes. Mais j’espère vous avoir donné un aperçu de cet aspect plutôt étrange de la politique au Royaume-Uni.